I write these words to you just a few days before little Rosalind’s baptism (to take place on the first Sunday of this month, May 5th). On that morning, her new life in Christ will unfold in the same way as her mother’s and her father’s and many others in the Lutheran Christian tradition: by being baptized as an infant and sent out from that event with family members, godparents, and a local congregation to continue forming her in faith.
Rosalind’s path to Christian life has been the norm for Lutherans in our more than 500 years of history, something we inherited from our Roman Catholic roots (Martin Luther ended up being pushed out of that church body as a result of his Ninety-Five Theses and other writings from the year 1517 onward). It has been the norm for Lutherans because Lutheran Christianity has existed only during the Christendom period, wherein Christianity has been a state-sanctioned and/or majority religion in many Western nations. Simply put, people were born into Christian families and then grew up to build Christian families of their own.
While that system of passing down Christian faith through successive generations has been very effective over the centuries, population trends today give us a powerful reminder that Rosalind’s path is not (and cannot) be the only pattern in which the Holy Spirit works to form faith in people. A couple years ago, the Pew Research Center did a study on the religious landscape of the United States. Their findings provide some interesting information. Christianity is the nation’s majority religion, at 70.6% of the population. Lutherans of any denomination are 3.5%, and just 1.4% of the United States is specifically ELCA Lutheran.
Those numbers are minor and probably unsurprising facts. However, the Pew study did find some other information that is more surprising. According to the study, the fastest growing religious group is the “nones”--people who are not affiliated with any organized religious group at all--which is now up to 22.8%. A quick bit of math, and we discover that there are over 16 times as many “nones” in the United States as there are ELCA Lutherans!
These sorts of numbers may seem troubling to you. They might drive up your anxiety or push your mind into dark places. How is a congregation like Trinity to continue doing vital ministry for our next 129 years without the steady generational supply of Lutherans that existed for our first 129 years?
But what if there were a way to see those numbers not as a threat but rather as an opportunity? After all, knowing that there are 16 times more people around us to reach with the good news of Jesus Christ than we have people to send out means that God has lots of fruitful work for us to do! I say this not simply as a cheerleader for the Lord’s servants here--I say it because it is exactly the perspective of the early church, as we learn in the Book of Acts.
In the first years following Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the apostles faced long odds and hostile environments for spreading the gospel; yet, the Holy Spirit worked through them to drive thousands of people to the emerging Christian movement. We will share stories of their work from the Book of Acts all through the Easter season, and I will be preaching a series on those weekly readings with an eye toward the topics of conversion and evangelism--things that are vital to making disciples out of “nones” and building a congregation that excels in welcoming people to share in the joy, sufferings, and salvation that come along with life in Christ!
Pastor Micah Garnett has been our Pastor since July 2016. He grew up in York, PA and graduated from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 2011. He enjoys worship, working with social services in Fulton County, writing hymns, and cycling.